Wednesday, July 13, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Anti-abortion activists say "Wanted" posters not a threat

The Associated Press

PORTLAND — Anti-abortion activists who were ordered by a federal jury to pay $108.5 million in damages after creating a set of "Wanted" posters listing the names and addresses of a dozen doctors are asking a federal court to revisit the case.

The activists, who claimed the posters were protected by the First Amendment, want the court to reconsider the punitive damages awarded in the case, according to attorneys. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland heard arguments yesterday and is expected to rule within the next several months.

In 2002, the 9th Circuit ruled that the posters and an accompanying Web site constituted an illegal threat. But the activists claim that a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court significantly raised the bar on what constitutes true intimidation.

"Now you have to specifically intend to cause harm, rather than just saying something that a reasonable person could interpret as a threat," said Edward White, a lawyer representing the abortion foes, who were first sued in 1995 by Planned Parenthood and several doctors.

Maria Vullo, the attorney for the abortion doctors and Planned Parenthood, said the anti-abortion activists have been "refiling the case over and over again."

"I don't believe that the court this morning is accepting their efforts to relitigate the case," she said yesterday.

The Wild West-style poster named 13 doctors, including three in Oregon, underneath the headline "Wanted." A related Web site, titled the "Nuremberg Files," declared the doctors guilty of crimes against humanity and listed their addresses and telephone numbers.

Four physicians, claiming they feared for their lives, sued under racketeering laws and a 1994 federal law that makes it illegal to incite violence against abortion doctors.

They pointed to Dr. Bayard Britton, who was shot and killed, along with his bodyguard, by an abortion protester outside a Pensacola, Fla., abortion clinic in July 1994 after his name appeared on a similar poster.

The state of Florida executed anti-abortion activist Paul Hill, 49, in September 2003 for the murders of Britton and his bodyguard.

Abortion opponents argued that the posters were never intended as a threat but rather as a form of protest.

They now say that recent Supreme Court rulings have tightened the definition of a threat, and therefore the courts should throw out the old verdict.

"If you read them, there is no threat — either implicit or explicit," said Portland resident Paul DeParrie, who helped craft the "Wanted" poster.

DeParrie was the editor-in-chief of Life Advocate magazine. The magazine's parent company, Advocates for Life Ministries, was part of the American Coalition of Life Advocates, which was one of two anti-abortion activists sued by the doctors.

Vullo countered that the 9th Circuit Court earlier had ruled the posters were intended to threaten.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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